Think of ski joering as horse-drawn skiing. // © 2016 S. Bailly
Feature image (above): If you want to ski and paraglide at the same time, try speed riding. // © 2016 Avid Creative, Inc.
With skis pointed straight down the mountain, I was instructed to take a deep breath and avoid making turns at all costs — you know, just have faith that the parachute strapped to my back would fill with air. My breathing grew quicker. I counted to three, questioned my sanity and leaned forward.
Speed riding — an extreme sport that combines skiing with paragliding — is one of several adventure sport activities offered at Portes du Soleil in the French and Swiss Alps. One of the largest ski areas in the world, Portes du Soleil comprises 12 resorts spread over approximately 400 square miles. Best of all, you can ski or snowboard through all of them using a single lift ticket (around $53 per person).
Expert skiers can earn major bragging rights for braving Portes du Soleil’s infamous Swiss Wall — one of the most difficult slopes in the world — located on the border of France and Switzerland. What’s more, there are 13 snow parks, 90 slopeside restaurants and 296 ski slopes available to cater to skiers of all levels.
When you’ve gotten your fill of moguls and catwalks and are looking to turn it up a notch, consider trying something a bit more curious. The following adrenaline-fueled activities in Portes du Soleil are sure to take your Alpine vacation to the next level.
When Falling Is Fun
Want to do something wild but have the kids in tow? Not a problem. Night Sledging in Morzine is an ideal soft-adventure activity suitable for kids as young as 8 years old. Your child can cozy up on your lap as you steer your sledge (or sled) down 2½ miles of wide-open ski runs. You needn’t worry about colliding with skiers or snowboarders either — they’ve all gone home for the day. When you manage to fall (and you will), you’ll enjoy sledging even more. With your center of gravity so close to the ground, it’s unlikely that you’ll feel any discomfort when crashing. In fact, it’s hard not to have a big smile on your face when dusting off snow from your ski jacket.
Up In the Air
Out of all the adventure activities I tried during my spring visit to Portes du Soleil, paragliding with Air Libre was my absolute favorite. My instructor did all of the heavy lifting — all I had to do was run a short distance off the side of a ski slope. The next thing I knew, we were flying high above Mont Chery.
Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Western Europe, kept us oriented as we gained elevation, finding pockets of warm air, called thermals, and riding them like birds. With my instructor at the helm, I was able to sit back, absorb every moment and snap a bunch of photos. Skiers and snowboarders looked like ants down below. No experience is required for a tandem first flight with Air Libre (located in Les Gets, France), and at $86 per flight, it’s a great deal. My flight lasted about 10 minutes, but it’s such an outstanding sensory experience that your time in the air feels much longer.
As an outsider, when you’re on vacation in a foreign country, some things can seem, well, a bit absurd. For me, this was ski joering. With roots in Scandinavian culture, ski joering is what happens when sleigh riding meets skiing. Skiers hold onto a metal frame that is harnessed to a horse, and as the horse trots along the trail, the skier moves with it. By far, the best part of the excursion is when the horse gallops downhill; the worst part is when he answers nature’s call.
The Need for Speed
Speed riding is to skiing as kitesurfing is to surfing. These are sports that are already difficult to master well before the addition of sleek, aerodynamic gear that can get adventurers airborne like never before. Suitable for a Red Bull commercial, speed riding is not for everyone — you’ll need to be a strong skier to even consider it.
My instructor from Paragliding School Portes du Soleil began the lesson by putting on a show, demonstrating the way professional riders pick up speed and fly off jumps. Clearly, our group would not be doing anything quite so flashy during our three-hour introductory course, but it was exhilarating to see the sport in its true form. During a group lesson and after adequate instruction, there’s time for newbies to put their skills to the test at least twice. Depending on your ski-to-falling ratio, two runs might be all the excitement you need.
Where to Stay
Families will feel right at home at La Tapiaz in Les Gets, which offers babysitting services, a play area for toddlers and a kids’ club with arcade games, table tennis and foosball. Family Suite Rooms, which can accommodate up to five guests, come with access to the Sereni-cimes Spa and the swimming pool.
In Morzine, book Le Tremplin, a ski-in, ski-out chalet celebrating its 80th birthday this year. After night sledging, head to the bar to join fellow revelers in the kind of apres-ski scene that has made the French Alps legendary. A DJ mixes old-school jams with pop hits and French house music, while bartenders dish out mojito after mojito.